Sometimes the world breaks my heart. I was sitting on a park bench yesterday and watched an interaction that occurs every second of every day in your own back yard; a group of young men leering at a group of younger girls. The men were close enough that I could overhear their commentary, and the women were close enough that I could observe their reaction. My first reaction was anger. I felt compelled to intervene and to call out these bastards, to correct their obviously inappropriate behavior, but it was over very quickly and everyone moved along. As I sat there in the warm spring sunshine, watching the young ladies in their colorful dresses and sandals walk away, my anger turned to sadness. Because it happens, just like that, and then it’s over and accepted and swept away along with so many other incidents and interactions, some of them far more serious and permanently damaging than others.
I thought about my own daughters, and the daughters of friends and family, and of lovers and of mothers and aunts and cousins and sisters. I thought about how it must feel to experience that on a regular basis. Of the harrowing statistics about harassment, assaults and rape. I thought about the shame and the blame placed upon the victims, and some of the experiences that women I have known have shared with me. I thought about what must be missing in the lives of these boys or the way in which they were raised that they believe somehow this is in any way welcomed, or is honorable, or cool, or is a part of what it means to be a man. I thought about the stereotypes perpetuated in the media for both men and women, forced upon us pushing products and pitching lifestyles, and of the Male Gaze, and our society and culture in general. I thought about the current Leadership in America, and specific attitudes, words and actions, and how that all got swept under the rug and forgotten and he was ultimately rewarded, again, and is viewed by some to be an example of a great success, a ‘winner’. What we put front and center as an ‘example’ to aspire to.
It all made me angry, sad, and I felt shame. It made me think about my own attitudes and actions, and how my own words and actions (or inaction) can and do have an impact in the lives of others. It gave me pause for a gut check, maybe I should have done or said something. Sitting in the park, in the backroom, the boardroom, the locker room, in that crowded bar in the dark. It made me want to write something about it.
And it made me think of this song by Natalie Merchant, written from the perspective of a woman, with a message I always felt was very powerful and beautiful. When my girls were younger it helped me to remain conscious of my responsibilities as a father and role model, both to them and to the young men I had influence over.
Maybe that’s just it, my message here is to listen to that song, and think about this stuff for a second…put yourself in the perspective of the victimized and subjugated. Think about what you believe is acceptable, what we all should tolerate. Think about what you believe is right, and be conscious of the messaging you get bombarded by every day and how it affects you and yours, and think about your own words, attitudes, thoughts and actions. What do you tell your sons and daughters?
What do you tell yourself?
I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself.
look in the mirror, look in the mirror what does it show?
I hear you counting
I know you’re adding. adding up the score.
I know, oh yes I know what you tell yourself,
Ever since Eden we’re built for pleasing everyone knows
and ever since Adam cracked his ribs and let us go
I know, oh yes I know what you tell yourself
Who taught you how to lie so well
and to believe in each and every word you say?
who told you that nothing about you is alright
it’s just no use, it’s just no good you’ll never be O.K.?
Well I know, I know that wrong’s been done to you
“It’s such a tough world,” that’s what you say
well I know, I know it’s easier said than done
but that’s enough girl, give it away,
give it, give it all away
Tell yourself that you’re not pretty
look at you, you’re beautiful.
tell yourself that no one sees
Plain Jane invisible me, just tell yourself
Tell yourself you’ll never be
like the anorexic beauties in the magazines
just a bargain basement Barbie Doll
no belle du jour, no femme fatale
just tell yourself
Tell yourself there’s nothing worse
than the pain inside and the way it hurts
but tell yourself it’s nothing new
cause everybody feels it too
they feel it too
And there’s just no getting ’round
the fact that you’re thirteen right now
Natalie Merchant / Indian Love Bride © 2001